To answer the question quickly, altogether is a term that usually means “as a whole” or “completely.” In contrast, all together usually means “everyone/everything together at once.”
These terms don’t necessarily equate to “the sum of its parts.” In other words, these two phrases aren’t mutually exclusive and should be used in different contexts.
Main Differences Between All Together and Altogether
In most cases, all together refers to all members of a single group. However, it can also mean “in a group.” For instance:
- We sang all together at the dance yesterday!
- We read all together in church last Sunday.
In addition, you may see nouns and verbs used between “all” and “together.” For example:
- They put all the eggs together in one basket.
- After the concert, you should all come together to get dinner.
As mentioned, altogether usually means “everything at once.” For instance:
- He should have held the tickets altogether.
- Keeping the eggs altogether would be the best way to prevent them from cracking.
You will also notice that altogether is an adverb while all together is a phrase.
Examples From International Media Sources
An eight-month inquiry by the all-party group on mindfulness found frontline public servants could be less likely to fall ill with stress, or quit altogether, if they engage in the increasingly popular meditation practice, which involves increasing awareness of the present moment to help control anxiety and depression. – The Guardian
“Yes, I’m repeating some of information that others have brought out,” he said. “But others brought it out and buried it in footnotes. I brought it all together. I connected the dots.” – The New York Times
More Examples of Altogether and All Together to Show They Are NOT Synonyms
To drive home the differences between the two words, consider the following additional examples.
We dined all together, as a table of friends.
You use all together here because you are describing a complete group.
It is more affordable to buy your computer component by component; you can save lots of money altogether.
Flying a jet is an altogether different kind of flying than flying in an airplane.
The visual image contrasting individual pieces of a computer to a complete one emphasizes that the adverb is being used as an alternative to completely. In the second example, the phrase is used to describe an entirely different kind of flying.
Some additional examples can help you see the differences even better, from members of a group to being complete or all-in-one.
Mary owes me $20 altogether for washing her dirty clothes.
The hostess was great. Altogether, we had an amazing time.
We got all together to decide on a dress code for the event.
They went all together to see the movie.
A bunch of hooligans got all together to damage the device.
How to Easily Check Usages and Use the Right Word: A Refresher on the Key Difference
Given how similar altogether and all together are, it can be hard to remember which is which, especially in everyday conversation.
Remember that altogether is a single word that is an adverb. All together is a phrase, so its function is less concise.
When in doubt, you can see if it would make sense to separate all and together. If you can, use all together. If you can’t, use altogether.
At the very least, you can’t tell the difference between the two in speech. And when writing, your software will likely give you feedback and correct your usage if necessary.